In May 1999 Pope St. John Paul II warned the Bishops of Ontario on their Their Ad Limina Visit, “the anonymity of the city cannot be allowed to enter our Eucharistic communities.”
I remembered this point recently when reading two news articles. The first is about the dedication of the new St. Charles Borromeo Church, Visalia, California in the Diocese of Fresno. With seating for 3,200 people, this new church is reported to be “the largest parish church in North America.”
Given the problems of priest shortage and the need for parishes to serve more people, I can understand the pastoral needs that led to the construction of such a large church. But hearing the new church described as “a football field under a roof,” leads me to wonder if it is too big.
As I read about this new big church, I also reflected on another recent article that the decline in vocations to the priesthood is worse where priests serve larger flocks. While I think that cathedral liturgy has its place and that occasional worship on a large level can be beneficial experience, I also think that Christian liturgy benefits from the intimacy of the smaller community where, to borrow a phrase, “everyone knows your name.”
I raise this point as a topic of reflection. Many small parishes are nonetheless islands of anonymity. Likewise, many have found the intimacy of true Christian community in megachurches. Yet I think we cannot simply assume that the bigger the church building the more efficient it will be.
Cover art: Lakewood Church worship, in 2013, from Wikimedia Commons.